Entertainment

Niantic’s first original game in almost a decade is another attempt at striking AR gold

Niantic is using its Pokémon expertise to launch an all-new pet simulator called Peridot.

Peridot screenshot

Peridot enters beta later this month.

Image: Niantic

Niantic is back to making original games. The San Francisco-based augmented reality developer announced its latest title on Wednesday, a pet simulation game it’s calling Peridot, which enters beta later this month.

The game feels and looks equal parts Pokémon, Neopets and Tamagotchi, and involves raising and bonding with genetically unique animals before taking them to real-world habitat sites, where players can breed them with other creatures. There is no capturing mechanic or competitive battling, like in Pokémon, or any risk of your Peridot perishing due to neglect, like with a Tamagotchi.

Instead, Niantic is going for a more relaxing affair that will have you growing your pet from birth to adulthood over the course of a few days, and then creating new variations to “diversify the species” of Peridots. All the while, you’ll be able to open the in-game camera to see your creature out in the real world.

Niantic says it's deploying its most cutting-edge AR features, including one called occlusion in which a Peridot can become obscured by real-world objects and one in which the creatures can identify the type of ground they’re standing on to forage for distinct food types.

“They can differ in their visual experience, personality traits, likes and dislikes, and their abilities. That variation makes for an incredibly deep breeding system,” said Ziah Fogel, a senior product manager and producer on Peridot at Niantic. “Each creature has their own DNA and the breeding system is patterned after how DNA works in real life, but blends the best of hand-created assets and procedural generation.”

Peridot has been in development for roughly two and a half years. Niantic’s shift back toward games of its own creation that aren’t tied to existing intellectual property is a substantial one, considering it hasn’t released an original title since 2013’s Ingress.

Since the success of Pokémon Go about six years ago, the company has focused on partnering with existing brands and media properties, to mixed success. Harry Potter: Wizards Unite was its most high-profile attempt at replicating the global sensation of its AR take on Nintendo’s monster-catching franchise. But Niantic shut the app down in January after less than three years on the market.

A similar attempt to adapt the board game Catan into a mobile AR format didn’t get far either; Niantic canceled the project after a year of early access in select markets. The company did recently release a spin of Nintendo’s Pikmin series to solid reviews, and it still has a Transformers title in the works. But so far, only Pokémon Go seems to have deployed the right blend of a beloved and timeless brand with novel AR features and gameplay.

In that sense, there is a lot riding on Peridot for Niantic, which raised $300 million in November at a valuation of $9 billion on the promise of both its cutting-edge AR technology and its ability to deploy that technology in interesting and commercially successful formats.

The company has not yet proven there is a substantial mobile AR market beyond Pokémon Go. And while big tech companies like Apple, Meta and Microsoft have all invested significant resources into developing existing and next-generation AR glasses and headsets, those devices are many years off. (Niantic is also invested in the hardware space thanks to a partnership with Qualcomm, but it’s not clear whether the partnership will result in consumer products rather than reference designs.)

More recently, Niantic has turned its tools into a developer platform it calls Lightship in the hopes that other game-makers and companies can use AR to make another hit as potentially major as Pokémon Go. This has coincided with a turn toward the metaverse, with Niantic proclaiming its vision for the future is one with a “real-world metaverse” that doesn’t trap users inside wearing headsets.

“We believe we can use technology to lean into the 'reality' of augmented reality — encouraging everyone, ourselves included, to stand up, walk outside, and connect with people and the world around us," Niantic CEO John Hanke wrote last year in a blog post that called the metaverse a potential “dystopian nightmare.”

Games like Peridot, in that context, have two missions: They first and foremost have to be fun and engaging, but they also have to help highlight and promote Niantic’s particular vision for both AR gaming and the metaverse, a vision that wants people outside, moving around and hanging out with friends in the real world. Then, of course, they also have to make money; Niantic says it’s intending to include a number of microtransactions in the game, similar to those found in Pokémon Go and Harry Potter: Wizards Unite.

Peridot, as an original game, may not be an overnight success or a worldwide phenomenon like Pokémon Go — it’s unlikely any game now or in the future will be able to have as large an impact on AR gaming until the arrival of mainstream smart glasses.

But Niantic doesn’t necessarily need another Pokémon Go. It just needs to prove it can use the gaming format to push mobile AR even further, and at the same time show just how sophisticated the tech can be on smartphones. And with Peridot, the company is also hoping it can achieve one of the most sought-after goals in gaming: expanding its audience.

“We think Peridot will appeal to a wide range of audiences across age and geography. We’re targeting a pretty casual audience,” Fogel said. “We hope to reach people who may not consider themselves gamers at all.”

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